December 24, 2012

"This is How You Lose Her" by Junot Diaz Highlights the 'Half-Life of Love' and its 'Foreverness'

I cannot resist a Junot Diaz write up, and those close to me know that; so within the first week of its release, I had  gotten a copy of Junot Diaz’s “This is How You Lose Her”, a collection of short stories with the most predictable Junotesque theme of ‘infidelity’. 

Having lived in and around New Brunswick, the favored setting in most of Diaz’s writing, for more than ten years, I feel a connect to all that Mr. Diaz writes, be it the Rutgers University Campus, the Dominican ‘bodegas’ around it, or the Spanglish which is now the second language of this university town. Additionally, I almost had the privilege of having Mr. Diaz as a keynote speaker at an event I organized, but for the stranglehold of decency imposed by administration who wanted a guarantee from me that Mr. Diaz would use caution with his language during the keynote address. An appalling demand considering his audience  at this event comprised of  16 to 20 year olds whose language was for the most part a spattering of profanities in English, Spanish, and Spanglish! Until this day, I regret not having gotten that chance of meeting and listening to Junot Diaz! 

Dominicans are a very interesting minority in this immigrant friendly university town, and I know for sure that there are several such Yuniors that reside in New Brunswick who have stories similar to what Diaz’s protagonist in all three of his writings shares with us readers.  However, it needs the unself-conscious pen and the creative genius of Mr. Diaz to shamelessly live out these bacchanalian stories of infidelity and machismo in so engrossing a fashion that all moral and social judgments stand suspended! Not saying that Junot Diaz perpetuates the myth of male superiority because Mr. Diaz in one of his interviews admits that Dominican “culture leads us towards dehumanizing women in our imaginations. I and my male friends could not have been as fucked-up in our relationships, or done the things we did in our relationships, if we felt that women were truly human. Because once you empathize that they are indeed human, you become incapable of hurting them.”  Junot Diaz’s successful representation of the Dominican diaspora in New Brunswick is because he has so much been a part of all that he pens. He is in fact ‘Yunior’, at least for the most part, and like Yunior has “lived in three or four worlds … but never saw any value in sealing off (his) background. (He) was critical, but (he) never felt one of the options was to entirely reject it.” Much as he cringes at and decries the sheer shallowness of Dominican males, refers to them as ‘dogs’ and ‘rats’, but Junot is always one among them and understands, even smiles at some of the debauchery that surrounds him. 

Not a prolific writer, Junot Diaz has only a couple of major writings to his credit: Drown, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Monstro, and now, This is How You Lose Her. After each writing, he appears to have become more comfortable with his Spanglish alter ego Yunior and that has made his writing that much more appealing.  I thoroughly enjoyed Junot Diaz’s “This is How You Lose Her.”

September 24, 2012

Orhan Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence - A Novel Art Form?

"..why are you making a museum out of what you’ve already written a whole book about? Don’t you believe in the power of words and in readers’ imagination? Don’t you believe in literature?” - A question almost every reader of Orhan Pamuk's novel The Museum of Innocence' would ask of him? Why did Pamuk feel the need to actually build and create a museum in Istanbul containing all the objects that entwined the story of his novel " The Museum of Innocence", a forbidden romance set in Turkey during the early 70s between the rich aristocrat Kemal and the beautiful but middle class Fusun. Pamuk claims, "the idea of the “Museum of Innocence” was already fully formed in my mind by the late 1990s: to create a novel and a museum."  However, what is intriguing is that like other artists starting on a new piece, Pamuk did not have any fledgling idea/story to tell, and that he was depending on random objects, most of which he had collected in the 90s from fleamarkets in the then seedy locations of Beyoglu and Cihangir, to inspire and propel a storyline for a new novel! That is apparently how the 2008 novel "Museum of Innocence" came to be. I am somewhat reluctantly disappointed by the novel and annoyingly piqued by Mr. Pamuk's explanation for the construction of the museum in Istanbul.  My feeling this way may be attributed to the fact that I have a great deal of respect for the writer Orhan Pamuk, and that I had so thoroughly enjoyed his last novel, 'Snow'.

Having published his novel in 2008, Mr. Pamuk in 2012  inaugurated 'the' "Museum of Innocence" housed in a '19th-century house on a quiet street in the Cukurcuma neighborhood'!  The whole project cost him, about $1.5 million, almost the amount that the Nobel Prize on his earlier writing had gotten him.  Agreed that artists are by nature quirky, but this extension of the novel into a living museum 'of people' is an altruism hard to palate. Perhaps he wished to be the maverick having fashioned a museum almost as a sequel to his novel, but he refutes that saying “ it’s not that I wrote a novel that turned out to be successful and then I thought of a museum. No, I conceived the novel and the museum together.”  Apparently, he 'went shopping first, or .. took, from friends who still conserved them- old furniture, miscellaneous paperwork, insurance papers, various documents, bank statements, and, of course photographs for (his)my museum and.. novel...and wrote my (his) book based on all these things bought and acquired.' That rings true somewhat because in the novel Kemal and Fusun's love story does build upon and is stored within inanimate objects such as cigarette butts, an earring, photographs, an expensive leather bag, a matchbox.,; things that Kemal has either presented to Fusun, or has stolen from Fusun's home. The question then arises is whether Mr. Pamuk's novel is 'art', that which is inspired, or merely a 'contrived' piece of writing that needs selling.

Orhan Pamuk wanted to make a mark, and he did, but whether the mark has made an impact on his readers, or whether it will on generations to come, leaves to be seen.  I'd also be curious to know how many visitors the museum has had so far, and whether some of the visitors were readers of his novel, since the novel has a free admission ticket to the museum.  Also, how much is the admission ticket to this museum, and is the museum a non-profit venture given that it is a 'people's museum'?

Not meaning to undermine an artist's vision, but Orhan Pamuk's museum appears to be an after thought, a last ditch effort to get publicity for his novel. What I forgot to mention was that I had had a copy of the novel since 2009, but after reading the first few chapters of the 87 chapters that the book has, I set it aside to read at a later time.  Were it not for the announcement of Mr. Pamuk inaugurating his one of a kind museum in Istanbul, of the same name as his novel, the Museum of Innocence would have sat on my book shelf for posterity; I would never have gone back to reading Pamuk's novel.

This may be coincidental, but the fact that I had read Anita Desai's "The Artist of Disappearance' just the week before reading Pamuk's novel didn't help.  In fact now I see Pamuk as Anita Desai's 'disappearing artist' since he's now writing novels to 'provide a matter-of-fact account of the two lovers' moving tale', and he is now depending on museums 'to focus more on private and personal stories, be better able to bring out our collective humanity'.  Apparently the artist, the writer Orhan has given way to the 'collector' the 'hoarder' as Ms. Desai had suggested in her book! Will art disappear too is the scary corollary.... 

September 15, 2012

Anita Desai's 'The Artist of Disappearance' Captures Art on the Run!

In this collection of short stories titled, The Artist of Disappearance, Anita  Desai, besides telling three engrossing stories, makes evocative use of language to transport readers into unique settings like the cicada buzzing government bungalow of a staid civil servant in post colonial India, and a glade in the Himalayas that is strewn with  "pebbles worn to an irresistible silkiness by the weather". 

Published in 2011, The Artist of Disappearance captures the changing perspective on art and artists in our current day world. While bemoaning the passing of an era of innocence, realness, and virginity in art, the writer exposes the contemporary obsession with hoarding art, its over embellishment, and the sensationalism associated with it.  Consequently, some of the characters in Desai's novellas, 'are people who look at pictures and read books: the rich who 'collect and neglect' art, the civil servants who 'fail to support' it, the adapters and critics and publishers who 'cluster round the edges', their restless jostling muddying and blurring its (art's) outlines." As the grand finale, in the last novella, Ms. Desai presents Ravi, an artist and a recluse, who being hounded by a movie crew, withdraws into absolute anonymity and capsizes his artist's canvas from a glade that 'contained the essence [of the Himalayas] … as one glittering bee … might contain an entire season", to a matchbox "he could carry on him, and keep to himself". Art appears to be on the run in Ms. Desai's collection of short stories! Replacing art and artists are hoarders and collectors, translators and publishers, directors and producers for whom art is but a saleable commodity. Each of the three novellas track a disappearance, a diminishment of art or of an artist, either done in protest to preserve creativity, or else in despair against the ravages of modernity and industrialization.
It is noteworthy and reassuring that in the epigraph to this collection, Ms. Desai quotes from Jorge Luis Borges' poem "Everness", and it reads, “One thing alone does not exist — oblivion.”  Clearly, Ms. Desai believes there is still hope for Art and for the artist because, as the epigraph suggests, disappearance can never be fully realized. Consequently, in the end the artist Suvarna Devi, of the second novella 'Translator Translated', is still free, somewhere, in some other part of the world, and so is Ravi – Desai's last true artist in the title novella– he is still alive and happy in the village, making a new, even smaller world in a matchbox.

August 27, 2012

"Fifty Shades of Grey" - Is E.L James a Female Misogynist Preying on a Sexually Vulnerable Public?

An affront to the art of novel writing! Whoever calls 'Fifty Shades of Grey' a novel does a disservice to the creativity and writing prowess that goes into the making of a novel.  'Fifty Shades of Grey' is a poorly written,  loosely strung collection of episodes coined by someone lacking creativity. The fact that the book has featued on the NYT for twenty five weeks is a reflection on the poor taste of a sexually starved non-reading public that is too busy living a virtual life. Unfortunately, the romance of going out on a real date cannot be replicated by browsing/preying on social networking sites, and when even that fails to excite, that's when a 'virtually' living public turns to the likes of E.L James' 'Fifty Shades of Grey', "an instruction manual for an abusive individual to sexually torture a vulnerable young woman". As if this one book wasn't enough, E.L James churned out two books to follow to make it the highest selling trilogy! It may be that Ms. James' trifold outpourings satisfy an inherent need within the public, but it gets outrageous when those outpourings feature as best selling 'novels' on premier reading lists!  To make matters worse, Hollywood is now putting together the "most coveted adaptation in years" of James' "Fifty Shades of Grey" !  Perhaps this is to provide for differentiated learning of the 'instruction manual to sexually torture vulnerable women'.  It gets even better when Ms. James diatribe, Fifty Shades of Grey, inspires "licensed lingerie and fragrance lines" that top models are vying to become the face for. Eroticism in Literature can and has been classy; the likes of D. H Lawrence, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Nabokov have left an indelible mark with their literary exploits in the realm of erotica. However, I shudder to think that E.L. James' may soon be contending for a place in that category!

I picked up James' book to read on a flight and never finished it. It sat there on my desk for weeks, perhaps mocking me on my inability to write about it! I did not know what to say about it! There was a part of me that did not want to write about 'Fifty Shades of Grey' because that would mean giving it credibilty by recognizing its existence.  However, I did relent, and only because I want to vent the anger and outrage I experienced while reading this book. 

I apologize to those who read this post for categorizing it under the label 'books'.

August 02, 2012

Visiting India - "Blackout of the Century"! Yet, it Didn't Mean Much to Many Indians!

Yes,  I was in New Delhi during the 'blackouts' that occurred on two consecutive days this week and left 10% of the world's population without electricty! The world labels it the 'biggest blackout in World History'; yet, there were some in New Delhi who were oblivious of this catastrophic shut down, and then there were some who did not let out a cry or even a whimper, but simply sufferred it as if it were their due. Here are some first hand reactions to the blackout:

An entrepeneur in NOIDA who employs over 500 workers in her garment factory that exports to Europe and USA. "Oh there was (a blackout)? I didn't know.  We have generators that keep the factory running, and I have a generator at my residence. You react to this way too seriously."

A roadside tea stall owner in East Delhi:
"Madam, this happens everyday. You feel it, but I have not even a fan here, so I'm ok with it. It's business as usual. The 'bijli' will come...eventually; don't worry."

A housewife in a middle class residential neighborhood:
" This is inhuman; how can they do this.  Our inverter worked for the first three hours, but it is now discharged so there isn't even a fan to save us! Don't the 'netas' realize this heat and humidity will kill us.  In addition, now there is no water to wash and clean around the house because I can't operate the pump to draw water from the ground well...The food in the 'fridge' will go bad too! This is the second time this week I will miss an episode of my favorite 'serial' "Bade Achhe Lagte Hain". "

A South Delhi resident who runs a profitable advertising agency:
" This is how it is.  You shouldn't visit india over the summer. Why do you?  Besides you are staying in East Delhi. Everything there feels exponentially worse, even this blackout."

A senior citizen living in a high rise apartment in Patpargunj where all utilities are maintained by an agency:
" So long as I can watch today's Sri Lanka vs India one day Cricket match on TV the electricity outage doesn't bother me! The generator came right on, and we have had our fans working in all the four rooms, and the fridge is working too, so it isn't bad! I'm glad we moved into this apartment complex after retirement."
A middle aged businessman driving a Honda SUV  in Gurgaon on way to T3 terminal of the Indira Gandhi Airport :
" Electricity outage means the traffic lights won't work; not that people really care about following traffic regulations. Looks like this one is an extended outage; the metros will stop working and the traffic on the streets will burgeon like you can't imagine. Let's hope you don't miss your flight! Auto rickshaws and cabs will make a killing today."

A 'kaamwaali' who cleans people's houses for less than $5/- a month (per house):
"Nobody slept last night! The mosquitoes ate us up, and the stench from the nearby drain was very strong because there was no fan to dispel it. The baby (her granddaughter) didn't stop crying, so my son got angry and beat up his wife.  It was an awful night; I'm glad to come to work where there are fans. How much does a generator cost madam?"

A 55 year old Greater Kailash resident who runs a business from home and takes at least two vacations a year with her family:
" If you live in Delhi, you have to get used to this.  Besides, we don't really feel it.  What's the generator for?  We have a medium sized generator which we plan to replace for a bigger one this year; can't afford to take a chance! Delhiites need to look at the Mumbai model; I worked there for 5 years and there were no electricity outages there! I guess it's further away from the corrupt politics of energy management, hehe."

A tenth grade student studying in a private school in NOIDA:
"I will hangout at my friend's; his house has a generator not an invertor. Besides now I don't have to study for tomorrow because school may be out due to this outage; thank goodness we don't have generators in school. Though lately some of the richer schools have installed generators on their campus, so those students will not be as lucky."

Apathy? Tolerance? Neglect? Ignorance? Numbness? Insensitivity? Disillusionment? Victimization?

July 18, 2012

Visiting India - 'Ganga Water' Obsession

The River Ganga, one of the largest and longest rivers located in the upper half of India,
 is the heart beat of every Indian, especially the Hindu who considers it sacred and gives it the title of ‘goddess’ and ‘mother’.   

Hindus worship ‘Ganga Jal’, the water of the Ganga and place it in their public and personal places of worship called the ‘mandirs’. Before a Hindu breathes his last he must sip some Ganga Jal if he aspires to be in heaven after death. Taking a dip in the holy waters of the Ganga is equivalent to going on the Haj for a Muslim. In fact the ultimate respect for a dead person is for his ashes to be immersed in the Ganga waters. The waters of the Ganga are considered medicinal and spiritually uplifting; they are believed to cleanse all the sins one accrues in a lifetime.  It isn’t surprising therefore that in Hindu mythology the Ganga emanates from the head of Shiva, one of the gods in the all-important holy Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh. Mahesh being the alternate name for Shiva whose function it is to bring an end to life and is thus the ‘destroyer’ in the holy trinity. Shiva with the Ganga pouring out of his head appears to be the most popular god at this time. Besides huge posters and hoardings all around, there are 100 feet tall statuettes of Shiva at multiple places across the city, and there is one that you can’t miss; it is even visible from a plane as it lands at the T3 terminal at IG Airport in New Delhi! 

Aside from the fact that the River Ganga holds a prominent place in Hindu religion, it also provides livelihood and sustenance to the teeming billions that inhabit its banks in major cities, towns and villages.  There are several cities such as Allahabad, Kanpur, Patna, and many more that exist and flourish due to the waters of the Ganga. Civilizations in the past too owe their existence to this river and to the fertile plain that it offers for cultivation of crops. It is also the source for other major rivers such as the Yamuna and Gomati which provide drinking water and livelihoods to millions more. Given the mammoth utilization of its waters, the Ganga is obviously reeling under, especially in a country where environmental protection and hygiene is often ignored or given low priority. No wonder then “"While the permissible level of faecal coli form is 500 per 100 ml of water, the bacteria load is an alarming 20,000 to 50,000 for 100 ml of water in the Ganga. The main reason is that Ganga does not have enough water for dilution of such toxicants." (Deccan Chronicle)  Nevertheless, facts such as these do not deter the die-hard Ganga lovers who will go any lengths to procure Ganga water. 

I am currently staying in an East Delhi suburb which unfortunately is outside of the NCR National Capital Region), and is therefore not eligible for Ganga water. Just a block away there are residents that have the ‘fortune’ of Ganga water running through their taps and faucets, water that is potable, isn’t ‘hard’, and does not leave stains and deposits on usage. Meanwhile I along with hundreds of thousands of others living in Ghaziabad have to purify the ground water that we get in the tap using ‘RO’, or then we ‘buy’ Ganga water every day at the rate of Rs.250/- per barrel (12 gallons). These past few days I have begun to understand why and how people obsess over ‘Ganga’ water and pay through their nose to get those barrels of Ganga Jal that get lugged on cycle rickshaws every day. It is amazing how those barrels get supplied to apartments and houses on a daily basis; a supply chain model that could easily become another Harvard case study similar to the one done on the ‘dabbawallas’ of Mumbai.

I would love to become another ardent devotee of Ganga Jal, except that having done some reading about these miraculous Ganga waters, I am now aware of the problems that ail the Ganga; two most important ones being the river’s level of contamination  and its depleting water supply. This sacred river gets dumped not just with fecal and other organic waste, but it also carries high levels of chemical waste that emanates from factories in cities and towns located on this river.  Despite its holy status, people don’t hesitate to contaminate the Ganga in whatever way possible.  The Ganga groans sacrilege as chemicals, trash, and human waste get poured into it by the gallons! Unfortunately, there are few who hear and heed these groans; the rest are too busy bowing their heads and praying to the holy but overused and polluted ‘Ganga Maa’!

The Ganga saga does not end here, because the Ganga affects so many different aspects of daily life as well. I write this post in the aftermath of an excruciating 6 hour car drive (to and fro) that I suffered yesterday which ought to have been no more than 4 hours at the max, and all because of the sanctity and popularity of the Ganga Jal. My nightmare started the moment the car got onto a freeway close to where I stay, the National Highway 24. The highway has six lanes altogether, but only two were operational, thanks to the ‘kanwariyas' carrying Ganga Jal on their shoulders and walking back from  Haridwar and Rishikesh to their respective villages ! Practically one lane was taken up to facilitate the walking 'Kanwariyas', and this meant frequent and long duration stoppage of traffic in the two lanes that were 'open'; the average speed of our car on the national highway was perhaps 20 kms/hr! I kept patient for the first hour, but the 'kanwariya' and their welcome arrangements on the road side were unrelenting; the mainstream traffic had to yield to the Ganga carrying Kanwariyas! Ganga reigned supreme yet again even as I fretted and fumed for six hours inside a car on a National Highway on way to Gurgaon! 

This preoccupation with the Ganga is both impressive and alarming. Its impressive how the religious fervor for the Ganga has not waned over hundreds of years.  The Ganga has captured the imagination of several different eras in Indian history, and even today the Ganga spells salvation for the Hindu majority, if only they’d keep it clean! What is alarming about this Ganga obsession is that it blocks or at least slows down rational thought processes and interventions that would facilitate alternatives to the over used Ganga water. Given that there is a water crisis worldwide, the multi-million strong Indian obsession with the Ganga would only exacerbate the problem.   

Check out Aamir Khan's latest Satyameva Jayate episode on Water Crisis in India

to be continued....

July 14, 2012

Visiting India.... A Banking Encounter in New Delhi

India remains an enigma! It is a queer bundle of contradictions that somehow mesh together and appear to keep the nation going. This bank in New Delhi, India's capital, exemplifies the phenomenon.

Today I had a first hand experience of the Indian banking system, and I couldn't help but share what I witnessed and felt. It was a sweltering 115 degrees outside when I walked into a nationalized bank located in a West Delhi suburb. At the semi-open doors of the bank, I, along with a few others,  were ushered into an 800 square feet of space by one benign looking guard carrying an antiquated rifle. To my relief, the bank had air conditioning, and it worked, so it was significantly cooler in there despite the fifty plus customers standing in 'line' awaiting their turn.

I was not alone; accompanying me was a friend, a Delhiite, who was familiar with banking operations in India and had offerred to help me. I found myself standing at counter number 7 behind three other people, two of who were seated and had a bank employees attending to them. While I was standing in line, I discovered that the two people sitting side by side who were being attended to were not together; the line at the counter progressed in a unique way such that at any given time the second person in line would virtually be privy to every detail of transaction carried out by the person in line before him who was being attended to by the bank employee behind the counter. What was even stranger was that even I, the fourth person in line, could listen on to and see some, if not most of the confidential information of all those who came before me in the line! For instance, I got to know the name and age of the person just ahead of me.  I also learned that the young girl with him was his daughter who was going to Austin, Texas on August 18th to start college on a partial scholarship. The father was applying for a loan against his Fixed Deposits, worth 14 lakhs, to facilitate his daughter Mini Saxena's move to Austin. Why do I know this, and more importantly should I know this? Whatever happened to client confidentiality?

Another aspect of this banking system, one that impressed me, was the multi tasking ability of the bank employee behind counter 7. He was confirming the personal details of a policy holder on his cell phone while he was attending to the first person in the line; alongside, the bank employee was also collecting and handing out various 'forms' to people not in line. These people would just walk up to the front of the counter to demand a 'form' or simply thrust out an arm that held a completed 'form' and this multi tasking guru would mechanically comply without even so much as looking at the person who made the request! However, the completed 'forms' he collected so absent mindedly would fluidly land in a tray on the side with one flick of his wrist. How did he do this? What if he made a mistake, and did he? All these questions flew through my mind even as I watched him with undisguised admiration; he would decidedly never be an Alzhimer's patient with all the muti tasking his brain is subject to!

So did I make to the front of the line? Yes I did, only to be directed to counter number 3, where I was now number eight in the line.

To be continued...

June 03, 2012

Junot Diaz's "Monstro" - A Compelling Short Story!

I was eagerly awaiting this week’s copy of “The New Yorker’ as it contained Junot Diaz’s short story titled ‘Monstro’, and it was worth the wait! I read all of its eleven pages in less than an hour and in one sitting.
Junot Diaz claims he’s “been fascinated by end-of-the-world stories, by outbreak narratives, and always wanted to set a world-ender on Hispaniola”, and so he did in 'Monstro'.  The story is “set some years in the future and concerns a mysterious “black mold-fungus” infection that starts showing up on poor Haitians in Port-au-Prince, bewildering the international medical community.”  Despite a dual storyline, Diaz builds up the suspense surrounding the ‘monstro’ pretty rapidly, mostly because Diaz provides vivid descriptions of what the ‘monstro’ does, creating within its victims “a berserk murderous blood rage’ leading to ‘an outbreak of homicidal violence’ even amongst those who had so much as never ” raised a finger to hurt in anger their whole lives”.  Diaz’s story, though enchanting has him treading haloed grounds with a futuristic setting where the world is on the “cusp of a catastrophic ecological collapse”, which immediately has the reader thinking of similar settings created by H. G. Wells, Arthur Clark, and Asimov. Consequently, my first thought after reading Diaz’s story was that it reminded me of P.D. James’ dystopian novel “Children of Men” (which was also made into a film by Alfonso Cuaron).
 Diaz’s depiction of the ‘possessed’ is  riveting as these strange beings spew forth horrific violence and destruction. In a parrallel storyline there is Alex, a nineteen year old student from Brown visiting his ailing mother in DR (Dominican Republic).  There was an immediate sense of deja vous when I encountered Alex, Diaz's protagonist; he shared so many traits with Oscar, the protagonist of Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer award winning novel in 2005, “The Brief and Wondrous Life ofOscar Wao”.  Like Oscar, Alex is an American college  student seeking encounters of the heart on his home island of Hispaniola. I was not particularly drawn to or intrigued by Alex.  I think he falls prey to the more dynamic though elusive ‘invaders’, the ’possessed’, or even the ‘forty foot tall cannibals running lose on the island’ that had ‘destroyed Haiti’ and were perhaps responsible for the ‘dead zone that had opened over a six-hundred mile chunk of the Caribbean’. Alex is somehow disappointing, and appears, in my opinion, a work-in-progress.
Junot Diaz is a master storyteller, and ‘Monstro’ is proof of that as it both grips and enthralls the reader.  Inspite of the weak protagonist, I enjoyed the story very much, but I do have reservations about what Diaz plans to do with this enthralling story.  Apparently, Diaz plans to expand Monstro into a novel even though, as Diaz himself admits, “The danger always is that by expanding on context, you rob your story of content.” Given that ‘Monstro’ is Junot Diaz's maiden venture into ‘speculative fiction’, and a pretty successful one at that, perhaps he should just let 'Monstro' remain the short story it is.  However, if he does “cobble the courage together finish the book” then he will be contending with the likes of Orwell, Tolkien, Heinlein, and other such stalwarts in this genre, and I wonder how and if 'Monstro' will be able to hold its own.    
As for now, those of you with a penchant for page turners, ‘Monstro’ is definitely a must-read.  

April 30, 2012

The Story Protests!

I am; when I am told,
  from another’s point of view.
And then I'm penned
only to rest on a 'to-read' list. 
My shape and size are not my own.
 Delivered and designed I am
by one who thinks I am his to own.
I am set, evolved, and dissolved  
- in a city, barn, cafĂ©, even on a star,
in bygone eras and countries afar.
Embroiled and embedded
in conflicts that I'd rather disown.
 Spun by a stanger's imagination
and colored by alien wit and biases,
I'm housed amid characters
playing me out to a climax
one that I dread, even abhor,
because that sounds my death knell.
Now it’s the resolution that follows!
And from experience I know
it’s time for me to go.
It’s a curtain call I’m made to take,
so I don’t take the bow.

March 27, 2012

Dharun Ravi Sentence - Will 'Justice' be Served, or will he be the Sacrificial Lamb for a Society Unable to Deal with the Winds of Change?

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What Dharun Ravi did was wrong, but will justice be done if this young man serves a ten year prison term for the wrong he did, is clearly debatable! If punishment accorded to the guilty in a court of justice aims to improve society, then the Dharun Ravi case does not appear to qualify.

By definition, society is a work in progress. With the passage of time social norms change, as does the social ethos, especially when new ideas and trends make their way into society; women’s suffrage was one such idea, cinema was another, and in recent times it is the advent of the internet that provides quick and easy dissemination of news and information. Our society is blanketed by this technology, and at times reels under its weight, especially that part of society housing the forty plus age group.  However, the same is not true about the younger generation; they have become adept users of trendy technology and at times use it with indiscretion, as did young Dharun Ravi. Youth by definition is foolhardy, and oftentimes falls prey to bravado and peer pressure; this may have been the case with the eighteen year old in question.

It isn’t just the fast changing technology, but also new ideas and new trends that frazzle us. One such trend being the need to acknowledge and recognize gay and lesbian rights unequivocally, and as a nation we are still grappling with this trend. I say grappling because until 2004, same-sex couples couldn’t wed anywhere in the country; however, now, gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Maine and most recently New Hampshire. Nonetheless, it is still 6 states out of 50 that have a clear resolution on gay and lesbian relationships!  In the light of this statistic, would it be fair to expect an eighteen year old Dharun Ravi to be nonchalant about what he witnessed in his dorm room?

Clearly, Dharun Ravi’s case illustrates the limitations of a justice system that along with a puritanical bias  often times selects juries with limited exposure to advanced technology; the Dharun Ravi case is an example.  The wrong of Dharun Ravi is ‘modern’ by definition; nevertheless, deserves punishment as it embeds a wrong, but it also showcases the ills and challenges of the 21st century which will not be recognized or/and addressed even after Dharun is sentenced because the justice system lacks the know how.  Unfortunately, it is still wearing blinders from the century before.  Our justice system, like our society, has some growing up to do, and expeditiously, so that offenders such as Dharun Ravi will receive punishment that is crime appropriate.

 Every now and again society is confronted with an idea or event that is avant-garde, and it is then that the flexibility and adaptability of a society is tested; the Dharun Ravi case is doing just that. The question here is not whether Dharun Ravi committed a crime with bias; maybe he did, but where did the bias stem from? Is this young man's proclivity unique to him, or do we all share in this prejudice which we often hide by feigning ambivalence? This, is the more significant question the jury and the justice system need to address: Do our fellow gays and lesbians enjoy equal status in society?  Until we, as a society, provide an unequivocal answer to that question, we cannot conclusively sentence a Dharun Ravi whose wrongdoing mirrors the predisposition of his family, his immediate community, and this society at large.  His biases, his thinking or his lack thereof, are a direct reflection of his environment, and yet he, an eigteen year old just out of high school, alone stands trial.  Dharun Ravi is scheduled to be sentenced in May this year, and the chances are he will be put behind bars, for a couple of years at least, with hardened criminals, and all this while a felonious society looks on. Dharun Ravi's wrong doing, a 'webcam case' of invading a dorm-mate's privacy, could well have been regarded as a teenage prank, were it not so closely associated with the larger issue of gay and lesbian relationships about which we as a society are still 'ambivalent'.

March 18, 2012

On The Fall of a Leaf - "killing time without injuring eternity"?

Another leaf falls.
A testimony
That I am.
To what end?
I know not.
I continue to be;
In a charade,
of chores,

another leaf falls.
A reminder
this too shall pass
like it did
the day before.
Forget I will,
like I did
the day before.

another leaf falls.
A fear
Will another be?
Just as green?
With flowers
for company?
And then what?
A new canvas?
A new pallet?
With hues familiar
to ponder upon?
Just as..

another leaf falls..
I react.
To move the plant
into the sun.
And water it.
Even talk to it.
For it must grow!
Healthy, happy, tall

Another leaf falls.